Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE GERMAN COLLECTION
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Arlequin

Details
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Arlequin
signed and dated ‘Picasso 26’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 15 in. (46 x 38 cm.)
Painted in Juan-les-Pins in 1926
Provenance
Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris.
Perls Gallery, New York.
Herbert & Nannette Rothschild, New York.
Private collection, United States.
Galerie Gmurzynska, Cologne.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986.
Literature
C. Zervos, 'Dernières oeuvres de Picasso', in Cahiers d'Art, vol. 2, no. 6, Paris, 1927, p. 194 (illustrated; titled 'Peinture').
Cahiers d'Art, vol. 7, nos. 3-5, p. 166 (illustrated).
C. Zervos, Histoire de l'art contemporain, Paris, 1938, p. 262 (illustrated).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1926 à 1932, vol. VII, Paris, 1955, no. 1 (illustrated pl. 1).
Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Toward Surrealism 1925-1929, San Francisco, 1996, no. 26-087, p. 71 (illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Ballets to the Drama (1917-1926), Barcelona, 1999, no. 1680, p. 523 (illustrated p. 473; dated 'summer 1926' and titled 'Face of a Woman').
Exhibited
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Picasso: 75th Anniversary Exhibition, May - September 1957; this exhibition later travelled to Chicago, Art Institute, October - December 1957.
Riverdale, New York, Fieldston School Arts Center, Collector's Choice, March - April 1957, no. 22.
Providence, Rhode Island, Herbert and Nannette Rothschild Collection: An Axhibition in Celebration of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Founding of Pembroke College in Brown University, October - November 1966, no. 121 (illustrated; titled 'Head of a Woman').
Bern, Zentrum Paul Klee, Klee trifft Picasso, June - September 2010, p. 275 (illustrated p. 166; titled 'Tête de femme (Frauenkopf)'.
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Picasso Black and White, October 2012 - January 2013, no. 27, p. 219 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, February - May 2013.
On loan to the Kunstmuseum Picasso, Münster, 2008-2015.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

Brought to you by

Laetitia Pot
Laetitia Pot

Lot Essay

I want to get to the stage where nobody can tell how a picture of mine is done. What’s the point of that? Simply that I want nothing but emotion to be given off by it… A painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions… Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon… Its not what the artist does that counts, but what he is’ 
(Picasso quoted in E. Cowling, Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 491). 

As curving planes and facets of flattened monochrome colour collide and coalesce across the surface of the canvas, a distorted visage of a head emerges in Pablo Picasso’s striking Arlequin from 1926. Depicting two profiles of a face simultaneously, Arlequin is one of a series of split, biomorphic portraits that Picasso created while spending the summer on the French Riviera, and marks a major shift in the artist’s style as he left behind the rotund Neo-Classical goddesses that had graced his work of the early 1920s, and began painting darker, psychologically intense and dramatic subjects that exude a surreal, often disquieting quality. Painted with a stark grisaille palette, Arlequin has a compelling intensity, portraying with a striking economy of means a labyrinthine depiction of the human face. Arlequin was once in the renowned collection of Herbert and Nanette Rothschild. With a passionate love for the Modernist art of their time, this American couple began collecting in the 1930s, often travelling to Paris where they met a host of avant-garde artists, including Constantin Brancusi, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Tristan Tzara. Buying work directly from artists, as well as from galleries in both Paris and New York, the Rothschilds amassed a large and richly varied collection of 20th Century art, including the present work. 

Picasso painted Arlequin in Juan-les-Pins where he spent the summer of 1926 with his wife, Olga and their son, Paulo. This was the fourth consecutive sojourn that the artist spent in this glamorous area of Southern France, which was frequented by the beau monde of 1920s Paris, including Gerald and Sara Murphy, Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his new wife, Zelda, as well as a host of European aristocrats. At the beginning of August, John Richardson, the artist’s biographer, recalls that Picasso and Olga took the Surrealist photographer, Man Ray to the Murphy’s renowned Villa America to photograph them with their children. Finding the Murphy’s daughter, Honoria, dressed up in the same harlequin costume that Paulo had worn in his father’s portrait of him from 1924, Picasso was inspired to return to this character from the Commedia dell’arte – a central motif that runs throughout his art – and started to paint a number of abstracted harlequin heads, of which Arlequin was among the first (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Volume III: The Triumphant Years, London, 2007,p. 316-317). 

It was in the sun-soaked surroundings of Juan-les-Pins that Picasso found solace from his increasingly troubled relationship with Olga. Since the autumn of 1922, when Olga had been suddenly taken seriously ill and rushed to hospital in Paris for surgery, the couple’s marriage had not been the same, and from this point on, they began to gradually grow apart. Except for a few drawings in 1928, Olga’s representational likeness – once so revered and monumentalised in the artist’s Ingres-esque and Neo-Classical portraits of her – disappeared from Picasso’s art after 1923. Taking another floor in their apartment on the rue la Boétie, Picasso was increasingly estranged and independent from Olga, returning once more to his promiscuous ways. 

As a result of the growing tensions and unhappiness between them, Picasso’s depictions at this time of the human figure, and women in particular, became increasingly tormented as he abstracted and disfigured the face in his painting and drawing, splitting it into two halves and reconstructing it on the canvas. Over the course of the summer of 1926 – the time that he painted Arlequin – Picasso painted a number of heads in which he clearly revelled in the variety of ways to distort the human head, simplifying the facial features, and transforming it into a composite of interlocking planes (Zervos VII: 8, 11, 22, 23, 31). Josep Palau i Fabre has described the artist’s bold reconfiguration of the human form in this series of works: ‘[Picasso’s] acute perception of each and every one of the changes of expression that operate on human physiognomy; the permanent counterpoint between the same person’s face and profile and the difficulty involved in reconciling them; the way the eyes project or recede to see or not be seen; all these are secrets that Picasso was by now an expert in unravelling, and he uses them as a personal idiom through which to fashion these different sketches of faces’ (J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso 1917-1926: From the Ballets to Drama, Cologne, 1999, p. 473). 

Arlequin belongs to this series of abstracted heads. One of the most unified and cohesive compositions of the series, the painting is composed of amorphous, biomorphic forms, outlined with sinuous black lines. The head is locked into the linear geometric design of the background. With the monochrome palette, the forms of the painting are isolated and accentuated, and the stark contrasts of colour create a sense of heightened drama and tension. As Picasso had done previously in his Cubist portraits, in Arlequin, he has simultaneously depicted distinct viewpoints of a face, creating the appearance of a head in the round. However, in this painting and the accompanying series of works, the artist has taken this distortion to an extreme, littering facial features across the surface of the painting. Simultaneously presenting two profiles, the image also appears as if two figures are facing each other possibly locked in an embrace as the seemingly jagged teeth of one are meeting the rounded lips of the other. The dominant left-hand profile coloured in light grey would reappear in Picasso’s painting of the succeeding years, serving perhaps as the shadowy presence of the artist himself looking over the increasingly menacing and monstrous and abstracted female figures that he created (Zervos VII: 144, 125,126, 129). 

Although it was Picasso’s tense, strained and unhappy relationship with Olga that provided the artist with the raw emotion for these paintings, they go beyond the realm of portraiture, instead conveying a subjective vision of the head, conveyed as dissected, biormorphic forms on the canvas. In response to a journalist who asked what he had been doing throughout this summer, Picasso replied, ‘Heads’. ‘Portraits?’, the journalist asked, ‘No’, the artist stated, ‘heads, simply what I call heads. Perhaps you might not see them this way, they are…what is called cubist’ (Picasso, quoted in Richardson, ibid., p. 312).

It was Picasso’s intensely subjective vision and freedom of expression during this period that attracted the attention and adoration of André Breton. The self-appointed leader of the Surrealist movement in Paris, Breton had published the iconic Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 and at the end of this year published the periodical, La Révolution Surréaliste. Breton was extremely eager to enlist Picasso to the Surrealist movement, realising the potential of forming an alliance with the leading artist of the Parisian avant-garde. Lauding Picasso as, ‘the only authentic genius of our era, an artist the like of whom has never before existed, except perhaps in antiquity’ (Breton quoted in E. Cowling, Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 453), Breton made a number of pleas to the artist to publicly declare himself as affiliated to the Surrealist group. 

Picasso treasured his independence too much to join a specific art movement and as a result, never succumbed to Breton’s requests. Although the artist never signed the Surrealists’ treatises or manifestos, he did not object to his work being included in the first Surrealist exhibition of 1925 at Pierre Loeb’s gallery in Paris, nor did he mind his art being reproduced in the Surrealist publications. Finding in this group of artists an infectious enthusiasm and a spirit of fertile creativity and collaboration as poets, writers and painters came together, the likes of which he had not experienced in the Parisian avant-garde for many years, Picasso was interested by the activities of the group, however, he maintained a clear distance. 

It was however true that at this time, Picasso’s art appeared in some ways to align with the aims of the Surrealists. The artist shunned reality in his painting and had at this time, unleashed his emotions, conveying a psychological, subconscious and dramatic raw emotional response to life. As Picasso stated to Christian Zervos in 1926, the year that he painted Arlequin: ‘It is in going to extremes that virtually all the potential discoveries of tomorrow will be made… Knowledge of the external world has never appeared very convincing to me… One can’t stick to the rules of knowledge when one is listening to the urges of the soul. There is more happiness in allowing the unexpected to happen than in discussing it… Why should it worry me that chance often leads us along the wrong paths? At least those paths are new to me. I like casting dice for a beautiful idea, even though I risk making a thousand blunders’ (Picasso, quoted in Cowling, ibid., p. 455). This approach was in many ways akin the Surrealists’ desire to break with artistic convention by creating art that was born from chance, dreams, the irrational and the individual subconscious. Ultimately however, Picasso was not seeking solely to give form to his unconscious, but instead, as he explained to André Warnod, ‘Resemblance is what I am after, a resemblance deeper and more real than the real, that is what constitutes the sur-real’ (Picasso, quoted in Richardson, op. cit., p. 349). 

More from The Art of the Surreal

View All
View All